The Challenges of Continuing Education: Harvard Extension School

Congratulations on going back to school. Deciding to enroll in a continuing education program is a big decision, but it's one that can be rewarding, whether you're looking to fulfill work requirements, build your resume, or just learn something new.

You've chosen a great school as well. The Harvard Extension School is a part of Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher learning in America and one of the most prestigious schools in the world. Of course, that also means expectations for you as a student are high. You're not taking night courses from your local community college. You're trying to obtain a degree or certificate that bears the name “Harvard” on it. You're taking classes from some of the finest minds in your field.

So, what do you need to know heading into this challenge? Generally speaking, there are two main areas of concern for Harvard Extension School students. The first of these is academics—all the many aspects of completing your coursework and obtaining your degree. The second is non-academic disciplinary issues. This category includes activities and behaviors that, strictly speaking, don't relate to classes. Below, you'll find detailed information on both of these topics, including descriptions of what can go wrong and how to get help when it does.


The Harvard Extension School offers over nine hundred separate courses in seventy different degree and certification programs. This includes undergraduate degrees in everything from economics to literature; graduate degrees in subjects as diverse as museum studies and industrial-organizational psychology; and certificates in business communication, nuclear deterrence, sustainability, and dozens of other topics.

No matter what subject you're studying, though, or which specific courses you're taking, you'll face some pretty rigid requirements. We can't stress it enough: you're attending Harvard.

Degree and Certificate Requirements

The Harvard Extension School offers four types of degrees and certificates: an undergraduate degree, a graduate degree, an undergraduate certificate, and a graduate certificate. Each has its own set of requirements.

  • Undergraduate degrees: These degrees require 128 credit hours, of which at least 64 must be from Harvard. You can earn Dean's List honors for a GPA of 3.5. By the same token, you must complete two-thirds of your attempted courses and maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.0 to remain in the program
  • Graduate degrees: As you might expect, graduate degrees require more from students. Of course, you must have an undergraduate degree to enroll in a graduate degree program. You must then earn an additional 48 credit hours, all from Harvard. In order to remain in good academic standing, you must maintain a 3.0 cumulative GPA. You should also note that any withdrawals after your first two count as zeros in computing your GPA.
  • Undergraduate and graduate certificates: Certificate programs are less stringent than graduate programs. In fact, you don't even have to complete a formal application to enroll in courses. However, the Harvard Extension School only credits you for courses in which you earn a B or better, and you must complete your certificate in three years from the day you take your first applicable course.

Keep in mind that the Harvard Extension School gives a number of grades other than the traditional A, B, C, D, and F. Should you withdraw from a course before the withdrawal deadline, for example, you receive a WD. Should you be excluded from a course, you receive an X. Many of these grades count as zero against your GPA, and can further count against you in Satisfactory Academic Progress reviews (see below).

Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy

If you receive financial aid to pursue your continuing education degree or certificate, there is another important set of standards to worry about. These are collected under the Satisfactory Academic Progress, or SAP, Policy.

In simple terms, SAP reviews determine whether you are making proper progress towards you degree or certification. It's a way for the government to cap educational expenditures by ensuring no one can simply exist as a permanent student. The burden is on you to prove that you deserve continued support.

Should you fail to meet SAP standards, you could lose grant and loan monies even if you are still meeting school expectations to remain enrolled in the program.

Harvard Extension School's SAP involves both a quantitative and a qualitative measure of progress.

  • Quantitative: You must complete at least two-thirds, or 67 percent, of the courses you attempt. In addition, the courses you take must be specifically applicable to the program you're trying to complete.
  • Qualitative: In addition, you must maintain a 2.0 GPA as an undergraduate or a 3.0 GPA as a graduate student, in order to demonstrate you are making satisfactory progress towards completing your program.

At the end of each term, then, you are evaluated and placed into one of four categories.

  • Satisfactory: If you're meeting both the quantitative and qualitative standards you remain eligible to receive aid.
  • Financial Aid Warning: Should you fail to meet one or both standards, you are issued a warning. While you remain eligible for aid during the next semester, your progress is re-evaluated at the end of that semester to determine whether you are now meeting standards.
  • Financial Aid Suspension: If, at the end of a second semester, you are still not meeting standards, your financial aid is suspended. You are not eligible for funds until you are meeting those standards again.
  • Financial Aid Probation: Finally, you may appeal a Financial Aid Suspension if you can show mitigating circumstances have interfered with your progress. In such cases, you can continue to receive aid on a probationary basis until such time as you are back in compliance with SAP standards.

It's not always easy to hold on to your financial aid under SAP programs, and it can be even more difficult to get aid back once you've lost it. The right attorney-advisor can help you gather evidence and draft documents to make sure your financial support is safe.

Attendance Policies

The Harvard Extension School also maintains strict attendance policies. While students enrolled in non-credit courses are expected to attend and participate “in adherence to instructor expectations,” undergraduates and graduate students are expected to attend “all classes.” This stricture applies to online courses as well.

In addition, some courses require an “Active Learning Weekend” as part of the curriculum and some online courses require an “on-campus” weekend as well. The policy clearly states that students must attend all three days in order to receive credit.

Academic Misconduct

Finally, as you would expect with any reputable school, the Harvard Extension School maintains a strict Academic Integrity policy. That policy specifically forbids

  • Plagiarism: The attempt to pass another person's words or ideas off as you own.
  • Inappropriate Collaboration: Work completed with the help of another person without authorization.
  • Cheating: The use of any unauthorized source to complete your coursework.
  • Duplicate Work: The submission of the same identical work to two or more classes without prior authorization.
  • Fabrication and Falsification: The invention of material as part of an academic assignment, such as making up a lab report or inventing a source for a paper.

Violations of the Integrity Policy are subject to investigation and adjudication by the school's Administrative Board. This committee has the power to assign sanctions, including

  • Formal admonishment
  • Probation
  • Revocation of rights to access certain buildings on campus
  • Suspension of registration privileges
  • Mandatory withdrawal from a course or program

While the program does not publish Board procedures, you can be certain that it adheres to consistent standards regarding issues such as timelines, appeals processes, and how decisions are reached. An experienced attorney-advisor will know how to gain access to all this information.

Academics: What Could Go Wrong?

Students are often surprised to discover that they might need an attorney to help them handle academic issues. The right attorney, though—one with experience working directly with students—can help in many ways.

You never can tell, for instance, when a professor might decide that the blizzard happening in North Dakota where you live is not enough of an excuse for missing class, or that your omission of a citation qualifies as plagiarism, or that your work just doesn't merit the grade you think you deserve.

An attorney can help you negotiate with faculty and draft appeals. In some cases, they may even be able to represent you during formal investigations and hearings. Whether you're accused of some complicated cheating scheme involving mirrors and text messaging, or you just feel like you deserve credit you've been denied towards an undergraduate certificate, a skilled attorney-advisor may be able to help.

Disciplinary Misconduct

A school is a community, and as such it has to maintain rules beyond the classroom, rules that govern how you treat other students and how you treat the school itself. Like every school, the Harvard Extension School has a Code of Conduct that dictates how you're supposed to behave. The school's code mentions several specific categories of offense with which you can be charged.

  • Inappropriate behavior towards or communication with faculty, staff, or fellow students
  • Misrepresentation of any kind, including the false submission of academic credentials to obtain program admission
  • Disturbance of academic functions
  • Unauthorized use of equipment or facilities
  • Destruction or defacement of university property
  • Harassment
  • Fraud
  • Infringement of the rights of others
  • Illegal “possession, use, or distribution” of alcohol or drugs

It's important to recognize that the school's expectations apply to online behavior just as much as to so-called “real-life” behavior. In fact, on its page about “Expectations,” it takes pains to note that students should treat web-conference class meetings as if attending class on campus and refrain from any behaviors that could disrupt class. That means

  • Behaving professionally
  • Treating others respectfully
  • Avoiding profanity and socially-offensive language
  • Dressing appropriately
  • Avoiding inappropriate surroundings

You should also know that sexually-based offenses are treated differently from other sorts of offenses, in part because they aren't just a matter of violating school policy. Federal law—Title IX—dictates that all federally-funded educational programs must take allegations seriously and must use a prescribed set of procedures for conducting investigations and hearings. CE programs, like the one at the Harvard Extension School, are not immune.

As with academic misconduct, instances of disciplinary misconduct are handled through the school's Administrative Board, which has the power to impose sanctions up to and including dismissal from the program. Again, the Administrative Board doesn't share information about its processes publicly, but you can be sure that it has a consistent set of internal rules and procedures it follows. For more information, contact a qualified student conduct attorney-advisor.


It may have been a minute or two since you were in school. Things have changed. School's very different from what it was twenty, ten, even five years ago. Cheating is on the rise, and that leads to paranoid professors with itchy trigger fingers. The value of an education has risen, and that means academic expectations are higher than ever before: at Harvard Extension School, if you get an A, you definitely earned it. In today's media environment, no school wants to be seen as soft on discipline, so every school takes even the most minor infractions seriously.

It's not just schools that have changed, though. You've changed too. When you were a student before, your only concerns were passing your courses, and maybe getting into a good party or two. These days, you have a partner, kids, a mortgage to worry about. You may very well have a full-time job. How well you do on a freshman comp paper just isn't as important to you as it once was.

Most continuing education faculty understand the particular kinds of stresses you're under, and most are willing to work with you to make your educational experience rewarding. If you should find, though, that a professor won't let you make up an exam you missed because one of your kids was down with the flu, or an administrator wants to dismiss you from your program because you didn't put a quotation mark in the right spot, know that you have options.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento specializes in helping students deal with school-based issues. He's represented hundreds of clients over the years. He knows the law as it applies to education, and he's practiced in dealing with faculty and administrators. Whatever problem you might be facing, from issues with technology to accusations of sexual misconduct, don't wait to see what will happen. If you're in trouble, contact the Lento Law Firm today, at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.

Contact Us Today!

If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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